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Guenther Is Cool at Finish

Football team's backup tight end gets key rebounds, makes free throws to give USC a 76-74 victory over Arizona State.

January 19, 2003|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

Gregg Guenther has an Orange Bowl victory on his resume.

Now the two-sport USC athlete has a basketball win to add to his collection.

Guenther, a backup tight end on the football team who joined the basketball team on Jan. 6, made two free throws with 3.9 seconds left to give the Trojans a 76-74 win over Arizona State at the Sports Arena on Saturday night.

"They told me I just needed one [free throw]," said Guenther, who finished with a career-high six points but didn't enter the second half until there were 36.1 seconds left. "But I was focusing on making both of them."

Guenther's heroics in front of 5,172 were made possible by two Guenther rebounds and a Desmon Farmer airball.

With the score tied, 74-74, and the Sun Devils working the clock for a late shot, Guenther grabbed a rebound of a Jamal Hill miss and quickly launched a full-court outlet pass to a streaking Farmer.

But with the ball tailing away from Farmer, who had hoped to lay it in uncontested, he had to alter his path. As both teams closed in, Farmer drove from the left wing but his fadeaway jumper from about 10 feet was short.

Guenther, meanwhile, had positioned himself perfectly and cradled the ball. He was fouled by Tommy Smith.

"Gregg made two big plays," said Farmer, who finished with 16 points. "He's the man for the night. He's the hero."

With the win, the Trojans improved to 7-6 overall and 3-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference. The Sun Devils fell to 12-5, 4-2.

Sophomore guard Errick Craven led USC with 22 points and Sun Devil freshman center Ike Diogu had a game-high 24 points.

Still, with time left on the clock after Guenther's free throws, a Trojan victory was not guaranteed.

After three timeouts, Arizona State inbounded the ball to Curtis Millage, who quickly brought it up the right sideline, where he unleashed a three-point shot from about 22 feet as time expired. The ball caught the front of the rim, but bounded away harmlessly.

The Trojans caught their breath before mobbing the game-winning hero, whose heroics would not have been needed had USC not blown a 10-point first-half lead and a nine-point advantage with more than nine minutes left. "Guenther brings a toughness to us that we lack at times," USC Coach Henry Bibby said with a smile. "We'll take a football guy. I help them recruit and they give me a player."

Guenther insisted he was not nervous as he stepped to the free-throw line.

"I've shot a million of those," said Guenther, who is six for six on free throws this season. "I was just in there for defensive purposes. The offense was a bonus."

Off the court, sophomore guard Brandon Brooks attended the game, his first public appearance since undergoing season-ending surgery Thursday to repair a broken left leg and dislocated ankle that he suffered in practice. Brooks said the injury was the scariest one he's had in his life.

"It was nasty," he said. "I thought I had just hurt it but then I looked down at it and my foot was completely sideways."

Brooks said the initial fears of his injury being career-threatening were premature and that he will be in a cast for six weeks before enduring a two-month rehab.

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